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Kentucky Kingdom Lease Finalized; Reopening Slated for May 2014


Kentucky Kingdom will reopen next spring, said Ed Hart, the Louisville businessman leading the effort to get the amusement park operating again.The lease between an investment group Hart leads and the Kentucky State Fair Board has been fully executed now that the requisite financing has been secured, Hart announced Thursday.Plans include a new rollercoaster and doubling size of the Hurricane Bay water park. Existing rides such as Thunder Run, the Great Wheel and Mile High Falls will also be ready, the new operators said."It’s going to be bigger, better and wetter than ever before," Hart said.The park has deteriorated since Six Flags shuttered it in 2009, but Hart said on Thursday that his group's planned $43.5-million investment—$36 million in the first year—will be able to get the park in working order. Hart said he's confident the park will be sound and safe.“The rides are like bridges—they’re in great shape, they just have to be maintained and they haven’t been maintained because the park’s been down," Hart told WFPL. "The buildings, it’s just a question of remodeling them and refurbishing them, like you do any building that’s old.”Hart said he's "110 percent" confident that the park will be ready by the target reopening date—May 24, 2014.Mark Lynn, chairman of the fair board, said he's please that that should be changing soon.“Now that this is done, we can get this whole eyesore back moving again and bring a good thing back to the city," Lynn said.What Happens Now?

The park needs work—the buildings and rides been unused for four years. When I was there, I saw chipped wooden rails and desperate needs for paint jobs.That work to get those buildings and rides ready is underway—Hart spoke in front of the water fountain at the park's entrance, which had been recently refurbished. There's a new logo, too.Meanwhile, the water park will undergo its $12-million expansion that will include three new waterslides, an "adventure river" (faster than the lazy river) and a 12,000-square-foot "wave lagoon."It'll be among the largest water parks in the region, Hart said.(A disclosure: Hart made a challenge grant to our parent organization, Louisville Public Media, to launch the Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting.)Kentucky Kingdom will employee about 60 full-time employees (with average salaries of $55,000) and as many as 1,000 seasonal employees. They'll make between $10 and $12 per hour. Hiring for seasonal employees is expected to begin in December, Hart said.Hart wouldn't divulge exactly how much ticket prices would be.“We will be the most affordable theme park in the region," he vowed.As before, Kentucky Kingdom will also have season passes. In a fact sheet, the group suggested that the passes will make "great gifts of the holidays"—so they'll be available by then.How We Got Here

Hart owned Kentucky Kingdom in the 1990s, but the company that operates Six Flags parks took it over in 1997. They closed the park in2009 amid bankruptcy proceeding.Hart attempted to get the lease to reopen Kentucky Kingdom in 2011, but the family that owns the Holiday World park in Santa Claus, Ind., emerged with a plan. They eventually withdrew.Reenter Hart. He made a new proposal.Lynn noted that the fair board had considered not reopening the park at all.“That has been the mantra really since day one four years ago—‘What do we do with it?’ Lynn said. "The problem was, if you can four years ago, the economy was not in the best of shapes. There wasn’t a whole lot you could do with it. The idea was to try to get it back to what it was, but if that wasn’t going to happen, then we’ve got to do something else.“Did we discuss alternative plans? Yes? When the Kentucky Kingdom LLC group came forward, it solved a whole lot of problems.”Hart's group has analyzed the condition of the park to gauge the extent of deterioration.Hart's investment group includes Ed Glasscock, Bruce Lundsford and the Al J. Schneider Co.  The fair board awarded the Hart group a lease in January, contingent on their having secured financing before a May (and later June) deadline.Here are details of the lease agreement with the fair board from January.They announced Wednesday that they had, indeed, secured the financing.All the needed agreements—with the state, city, the fair board, Louisville Convention & Visitors Bureau and the Bank of Kentucky—were signed Thursday morning, the Hart group said.“I’ve been waiting a very long time to say this: It’s a go. Kentucky Kingdom will reopen next year," Hart said.Update: Here's a statement from Mayor Greg Fischer:“The announcement today was a culmination of many months of work on the part of many people – the investment group, the city and the state. We’ve all shared the same goal – to get Kentucky Kingdom re-opened.”

Joseph Lord is the online managing editor for WFPL.